Some good things about Duke Lacrosse for a change

Mary Katharine Ham

12/29/2006 12:24:58 AM - Mary Katharine Ham

This 3-minute video is a "Tour of Things That Did Not Happen in Durham," hosted by Townhall's Mary Katharine Ham. Enjoy.  

This week, the Duke lacrosse team is back in the news because Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong has finally decided to drop charges of rape against three lacrosse players in the face of increasing evidence of both the players’ innocence and his own prosecutorial misconduct.

He has yet to drop charges of sexual offense and kidnapping, but experts expect him to do so shortly, since the accuser in the case can no longer even remember if she was penetrated on the night of the alleged attack.

When you’ve heard about Duke lacrosse for the past 9 months, you’ve heard all kinds details about possible rape, sexual assault, underaged drinking, strippers, and public urination. But what don’t you know about the Duke lacrosse team? There’s plenty.

1. Guess what the graduation rate is for the Duke lacrosse team.

No really, go for it. Hazard a guess. A team at an elite private university is still full of a bunch of numbskull jocks, right? And, we all know what kind of guys the Duke lacrosse players are. The very even-handed mainstream media has treated us to a picture of them as non-stop, beer-guzzling Neanderthals who spend all their time using Mommy’s and Daddy’s Northeastern, lily-white riches to find new and exciting ways to exploit local minorities.

Well, those meat-headed cavemen have a 100-percent graduation rate. One hundred percent. You read that right. That’s three percent higher than the overall student-athlete graduation rate, at a university with one of the highest student-athlete graduation rates in the nation.

Only one other men’s sport at Duke—cross country—can match that rate.

2. Did you know they didn’t just graduate? Many of them even distinguished themselves academically?

This from the report of the Lacrosse Ad Hoc Review Committee, the group of Duke faculty charged with deciding whether or not to retain the lacrosse program in the wake of the rape case.

In 2005, twenty seven members of the lacrosse team, more than half, made the Atlantic Coast Conference's Academic Honor Roll, more than any other ACC lacrosse team. 9 Between 2001 and 2005, 146 members of the lacrosse team made the Academic Honor Roll, twice as many as the next ACC lacrosse team. The lacrosse team's academic performance generally is one of the best among all Duke athletic teams.

Professors described lacrosse players in their classes as “polite students” who “took academic obligations seriously.”

3. Most of the lacrosse players are middle-class, suburban kids, not uber-rich socialites.

Also from the Ad Hoc Review Committee:

The majority of the players come from middle-class, suburban families (there are a few players from both very wealthy and from working-class settings). Most members of the team are recruited from the northeast-New York, New Jersey and Maryland are the traditional centers of the sport.

Wow, that’s not the picture the media paints, is it? Many of the players are indeed well-off and attended prep schools, but they’re not, for the most part, the Martha’s Vineyard-dwelling elitists the media makes them out to be. Here’s how the AP, in an attempt to make Seligmann and Finnerty look as upper-crust as possible, describes their homes:

Finnerty hails from Garden City, N.Y., and lived in a Dutch colonial houseon a cul-de-sac. A lacrosse net and equipment were visible in the yard, which abuts a golf course…

The Seligmanns’ home — a two-story red-brick house with twin white columns —sits about 17 miles west of Manhattan and within 1½ miles of three golf courses.

A Dutch colonial and a two-story brick home on cul-de-sacs, near golf courses? They’re not destitute, but I know plenty of folks whose homes would fit those descriptions, who aren’t the country’s elite by any stretch of the imagination.

Clarification: Just wanted to add that I found out Finnerty's father is the high-powered head of a very large hedge fund, and has served in many high-profile investment positions, so I will let you draw your own conclusions about the level of his privilege--which, of course, remains completely irrelevant to the case. But the majority of the Duke lacrosse players, as stated by the Review Committee, are middle-class.

4. The Blue Devil lacrosse team was ranked No. 2 in the nation when Duke President Richard Brodhead cancelled the season and pushed Coach Mike Pressler into resignation.

A lot of people discount this particular injustice of the Duke lacrosse case, but these guys had a very decent shot at a Division I NCAA lacrosse championship last year. Their season was cancelled before any charges were even brought. Even if the three guys eventually charged were guilty, which it appears almost entirely certain they are not, the whole team lost its chance at a season because Brodhead couldn’t stand up to the P.C. bum rush that convicted the whole team when an investigation had barely started.

All 47 men on the team—many of whom weren’t even at the party where the alleged attack occurred—had worked their entire lives to earn a spot in a national championship contending program. It is no small thing to play on a team like that. That’s years of fall ball seasons, three-hour practices, backyard training sessions, weight-lifting, parental support and money spent, all gone in a fizzle at the whim of a spineless college president.

Luckily, the Ad Hoc Review Committee decided the program didn’t have to go for good, but that was only after the team had lost its season, its coach, and most of its recruits in the wake of the rape case.

5. Duke lacrosse players become things—good things, even—after college.

From the Committee Report:

Alumni of the program apparently contribute to the community after college. 13 We received letters of support for the team from two recently graduated former players who are presently serving in Iraq. A remarkable number of alumni are volunteer coaches for their local lacrosse teams. Many are employed in prestigious positions in business, law, and medicine. 14 As evidenced by their support of the current team, alumni of the lacrosse program and their families are fiercely loyal to each other, to the lacrosse program, and to Duke.

Lacrosse players volunteer in schools around Durham during their tenures at Duke, and coach local teams after college. The “clannish” camaraderie of the Duke team, which mainstream media reports so bemoaned when this story broke, means they’re often inclined to give back to the sport and the communities that gave to them.

Many of them are privileged kids from well-to-do families, but they’re also hard-working, good kids from good families.

By all accounts, the lacrosse players are a cohesive, hard working, disciplined, and respectful athletic team. Their behavior on trips is described as exemplary. Players clean the team bus before disembarking. Airline personnel have complimented them for their behavior. They observe curfews. They obey the team's no alcohol rule before games. 11 They are respectful of people who serve the team, including bus drivers, airline personnel, trainers, the equipment manager, the team manager, and the groundskeeper.

So, there are just a few things you probably didn’t know about the Duke lacrosse team. They’re not a perfect bunch of guys, but they’re a very, very far cry from the monsters they’ve been made out to be. And, since the mainstream media has had little interest in telling you any of the good things about them for balance, I thought I’d tell you.